A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Obama administration did not follow the right procedures when it banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should have gone through an extensive process of proposing a regulation, inviting public comment and making the regulation final when it made determinations in 2014 and 2015 that elephant trophies cannot be brought into the country.
The decision could complicate the ongoing deliberations within the Trump administration over whether to undo Obama's ban on bringing body parts, such as heads, from hunted Zimbabwe elephants into the country.
FWS reversed the ban last month, inviting significant pushback from numerous corners, including animal rights activists, lawmakers and commentators from both parties.
President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE jumped in amid the backlash to put the decision on hold. Neither he nor his administration has made any announcement on the matter since then.
Since the three-judge appeals court panel ruled Friday that Obama’s ban should have gone through the rulemaking process, any attempt to repeal the ban would likely have to go through a similar process.
“In this case, the 2014 and 2015 enhancement findings had all of the qualities of a legislative rule, so the Service was obligated to follow the [Administrative Procedure Act’s] notice-and-comment procedures before promulgating the findings,” Judge Harry Edwards, nominated to the post by former President Carter (D), wrote in the decision.
But while the procedure was incorrect, the substance of the elephant trophy ban was legal, the judges found, and did not meet the “arbitrary and capricious” standard that courts use to evaluate whether regulations are not compliant with the law.
“In this case, there is no serious dispute over the fact that the regulatory criteria for import were not satisfied,” Edwards said.
Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association had sued the FWS over the elephant trophy ban. A lower court last year rejected all of their arguments, a decision they appealed.